In 2006 I wrote an article titled “Not Your Buddy” that has remained my most popular Boundless article to date. The premise of the article is that women are sucked into ambiguous relationships with men that look like dating but are essentially a Christian version of “friends with benefits” (primarily emotional and not sexual, in the cases I observed).
In all the situations I witnessed, the woman hoped the relationship would develop in a romantic direction — and even assumed this — while the man seemed oblivious at best and opportunistic at worse, allowing the relationship to drag on for months or even years. I mean, who wouldn’t love the attention, encouragement and homecooked meals these ladies were lavishing on these fellas? But inevitably, these ambiguous relationships fizzled. In a few cases, a friend bravely confronted the would-be suitor only to be told he didn’t think of his “friendgirl” in a romantic way.
Watching my female friends get hurt didn’t set well with me. This prompted me to write the article, explaining the phenomenon and encouraging both men and women to be thoughtful and discerning when navigating such relationships. Here is what I believed was at stake:
“Single men and women are failing each other. Uncommitted intimate friendships may satiate immediate needs, but they lead to frustration and heartache. Not to mention, for singles ready for marriage, these “friendships” waste time and energy.”
To this day, I stand by that statement. I have continued to see friends walk through these pseudo-relationships with very little positive outcome. However, in the past 16 years, my perspective has matured. Here are a few critiques I would offer on the article today:
My perspective was one-sided. After the article went live, quite a few men followed up with me, telling me that initiating “friendlationships” was not just a crime men perpetuated against women. They described situations where they lavished time, attention and money on women they wished to pursue only to be “friend-zoned” when they tried to take the relationship to the next level.
So, although the personal examples that prompted me to write the article were all women I felt had been mistreated by men, I now realize the negative side of the buddy relationship can happen to both sexes. I still stand by my advice that the person indulging the friendlationship — whether male or female — should cease and desist, releasing the other party to pursue other romantic possibilities. And the person languishing in a relationship where romantic feelings are not mutual should get out for the sake of their own heart.
It’s OK to enjoy social outings with friends of the opposite sex. My article seemed to condemn any activities that looked like a date if the couple wasn’t dating. As I continued through my single 20s, I discovered that I could have friendships with men that were not intimate. I knew a few guys from church who would have me over to play video games on a regular basis. I participated in many social outings with the men in my comedy improv troupe. And I occasionally met another male friend for breakfast before work. In each of these situations, I felt our status as friends was well-established. Our conversations could be meaningful, but they weren’t emotionally charged. And we spent time together occasionally, not several times a week.
When I wrote “Not Your Buddy,” I discredited the middle category of being good friends with the opposite sex while exercising godly discernment in the area of emotional attachment. I now see those friendships were something God used to help me learn to respect, serve and enjoy my brothers in Christ. (I clarified my change of perspective in my 2011 article “Boy Crazy.”)
The buddy relationship can be a valid phase in courtship. When I met my now-husband, Kevin, we started out as friends. For months after our first meeting, we had limited contact. He worked at my church and was part of a young adult group I attended, but our interactions were infrequent and not very personal.
When Kevin eventually asked me to co-lead a small group, we embarked on a friendship-forming phase that involved meeting for coffee a few times a week, bowling with friends, texting, and even taking a long hike together. We built our friendship for several months before Kevin officially asked me to be his girlfriend. One married friend wisely counseled, “Enjoy these days of not knowing exactly how he feels. Once you know, you can never go back to that special season.”
I now see that a limited period of ambiguity in a relationship is OK. As you’re getting to know someone (and wondering if he or she shares your romantic feelings), you shouldn’t have to immediately decide if the two of you will get married. Of course, you should evaluate the person’s character to ascertain if this is the kind of person you could marry, but a period of friendship can be beneficial to the development of the relationship. When that period of deepening friendship lingers indefinitely, however, that’s when problems can arise and someone can get hurt.
In my original article I may have failed to grapple with some of the complexities of guy-girl friendships and romances, but I believe many of the principles are sound. And I still love how the article ends:
Above all, if you find yourself in an intimate friendship with someone of the opposite sex, ask the Lord for wisdom and discernment. Describing the complexity of relationships, Dr. Reeve uses the words of a poster she once read:
‘Involvement with people is always a very delicate thing …. It requires real maturity to get involved and not get all messed up.’
“Never,” she concludes, “is this more true than in relationships between men and women.”
I couldn’t agree more — even reading her words 16 years later. Thankfully, all the maturity and wisdom we need comes from the Lord, and He is happy to give it to us freely.
Copyright 2022 Suzanne Hadley Gosselin. All Rights Reserved.
Editor’s note: For a conversation with Suzanne Gosselin and Joshua Rogers on this topic, including their additional insights, listen here and here.